My friend Karen

So. If you follow us on Facebook, you’ll know that we did Karen last Monday (both Hilary and Jess. Hilary at regular RX standard, Jess did it knocked-up style (as she does all her WODs these days), an 8 pound wall ball and 2 babies on board).

If you are reading this and are new to the CrossFit world, FYI, Karen is a workout that consists of 150 wall balls – 14 pounds for ladies, 20 for guys. That’s it. She’s one of the benchmark WODs. One that a lot of people are not huge fans of. And before last Monday, I would’ve counted myself among those people.

I mean, c’mon. As I said to a fellow 6 AM-er as she expressed how much she didn’t like this workout and didn’t want to do it, who does? I mean no rational, sane person says “yeah, 150 wall balls, that sounds like fun.” We’re CrossFitters, we do it anyway. We’re not supposed to be sane or rational.

But, after last Monday, I have a new found appreciation for Karen. I feel like she doesn’t get the respect she deserves. And while you might not think I’m sane or rational, hear me out.

First of all, I like Karen because it’s one of the more accessible benchmark WODs. Almost anyone, regardless of fitness level, skill, or experience can do it. It’s easily scale-able, just sub in a lighter wall ball, or reduce the rep count if you need to. But it doesn’t have some of the more daunting, less approachable movements, like pull-ups, HSPUs, pistols or muscle-ups like many benchmark WODs do.

Like all benchmarks, Karen is a great way to track your progress. I record my time for every WOD I do, but especially the benchmarks. Last week was my third Karen. The first time was January 2014 (about 4 months into CrossFit) I did it with a ten pound wall ball. The second time, last August, I RX’ed it and got 10:55. Last week I RX’ed again and got it done in 7:20!!! That’s over a three and a half minute improvement. Talk about being better than yesterday. A standard benchmark WOD like Karen is a great way to see just how far you’ve come (more on last week’s WOD and strategy in a minute).

I also like Karen because it’s as much (if not more) about the mental as the physical component. The entire WOD consists of one movement. That’s it. One long grind. One big suckfest that you just have to push through. No going harder on the easier movements. It’s just balls to the wall (pun intended 😉 ) the whole time. It takes a lot of grit and toughness to push through a workout that’s long, hard, and just plain boring. Karen shows you just how much mental strength you really have. And, once you’ve seen how hard you pushed and that you can survive a tough workout like that, it helps make other challenges you face seem less daunting. After all, once you’ve faced 150

This doesn't really have anything to do with me doing Karen, it's just a picture from a charity WOD at my gym last weekend that I like.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with me doing Karen, it’s just a picture from a charity WOD at my gym last weekend that I like.

wall balls, everything else is cake!

Karen is a great lesson in breaking down tough challenges into manageable pieces and getting things done, one step at a time. 150 wall balls seems daunting and impossible. But 10? I can do that. Then put the ball down, rest a few seconds and do it again. Before you know it, you’ve got 20 down. Then somehow you’re at 50. And then you’ve only got 20 to go. A seemingly insurmountable challenge just got a lot more manageable. A great reminder for those big challenges in life that just seem like they’ll be impossible to overcome. Take it one thing at a time and before you know it, you’re there.

So what was my Karen strategy? First off, let me just say that I was totally surprised that I did as well as I did. Going into the WOD, my only goal was sub 10 minutes. It had been almost a year since doing it last, so I figured that was an attainable goal. I wasn’t thinking that Karen was a workout I would really excel at, but I knew I could beat my old time and so that was really the only goal I had.

I decided to do the wall balls in 10s. I don’t love wall balls (like I said, who does?), but they’re not terrible for me, so I figured that doing them in 10s was a reasonable goal (and I learned my lesson about not breaking up wall balls early enough during 15.3...remember that?). I think that the last time I did Karen I did the wall balls in 7 or 8s. So I could start with 10, and always do smaller sets if I needed to.

Let me just say that the ladies of 6 AM slayed Karen. We were on fire. I knew that I’d be pushed hard going in. Jen (mother of 4, CrossFit life hero) was there. And on either side of me were Heather and Alex (both pretty tall. Heather was the 5th place holder on the leaderboard. I had done Karen with Alex before and knew how fast she could go when wall balls were involved).

I just started with my 10s and didn’t look back. I took rest after each set of ten, but not long rest. I held onto that ball, embraced the suck, then started throwing it at that red line again. When I finished the last push of the final ten wall balls, I looked at the clock in disbelief. 7:20?!?! Guess I made my goal.

Alex finished before me, but I took second, with Jen finishing a few seconds after. And, at the end of the day, our times stood up pretty well. 3/5 of the top ladies’ times were from that 6 AM group (with me in third place overall). I guess it pays to surround yourself by strong women who will push you to higher heights.

I felt exhausted and spent, but at the same time, never felt better. I knew I pushed myself to my limit, and, more importantly, that months of hard work and dedication had paid off. That’s what Karen, benchmark WODs, and Crossfit are all about.

And then I was sore for days…my quads were on fire! Which was great, come Tuesday night, when Heather and I were signed up to run a 5k. A notoriously hilly 5k. Let’s just say that neither one of us PR’ed that race. If you’re reading this, and can avoid it, don’t do Karen the day before you run a 5k (or any race for that matter). Just don’t do it.

When we met at the race, we both thought it was a bad idea. Standing up and walking properly had been painful for both of us that day. But, we were both glad at least we were in the same boat. I joked that we should’ve been in a special “Karen handicap division” or had t-shirts that said “I just did 150 wall balls” to explain our performance. Our agreement at the starting line? No one gets left behind.

And, just like Karen, we pushed through that 5 k together and made it out the other side (and then ate the delicious catered meal, went for fro yo, and I went home and had an Epsom salt bath).

So to sum it up: Karen, I’m sorry you don’t get the respect you deserve. I appreciate you now. And I look forward to another (even faster) date with you in the (hopefully not too soon) future (and without a 5k the day after).

What are your thoughts on Karen? Who’s your favourite CrossFit girl?


2 thoughts on “My friend Karen

  1. I won’t lie, I am not a fan of Karen at all. I have a really hard time not completely zoning out with any workouts with a large amount of reps. My favorite girl by far is Diane. The deadlift weight is only about 40% of my one rep max so I can rep them quick, and HSPU are one of my favorite moves even though I am far from proficient in them.


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